History stressed in planning for Fry’s site

Daily Post Staff Writer

It’s off to the slow and careful races for Palo Alto’s $888,000 redevelopment plan for the Ventura neighborhood, now that City Council has accepted a $638,000 grant from the Valley Transportation Authority to plan the 39-acre area.

“This is, I think, something we’ve waited a long time to see,” Vice Mayor Liz Kniss said. “I know it sounds as though this is a fair amount of money. I have a feeling that it will be put to very good use.”

Council voted unanimously last night (Nov. 6) to initiate the process for the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan, which will also be funded with $250,000 from the
Sobrato Organization. Sobrato owns the 15-acre Fry’s Electronics property at 340 Portage Ave. that could one day be home to affordable housing.

“I am staggered by the amount of money this costs,” Mayor Greg Scharff said. “I don’t think we can afford to do a lot of coordinated area plans.”

The council expressed thanks to the Sobrato Organization for the funds, though Councilman Tom DuBois pointed out that the plan was “likely in Sobrato’s interest” to increase their property’s value.

Several Ventura residents expressed appreciation for the formal working group that they hope will include neighborhood representation in the planning process.

Longtime resident Bob Moss pointed out the historic value of the neighborhood,
which he said was once home to a wealth of retail shops that were converted to offices.

Moss advocated for saving the building fronting Park Avenue that used to hold the now-defunct Cable Co-op as well as the Midpeninsula Media Center, which is now located at 900 San Antonio Road.

Councilwoman Karen Holman pointed out that the Fry’s building was once a tomato cannery dating to the 1920s, voicing support for planning the neighborhood with thought paid to its historical context. Planning Director
Hillary Gitelman said the goals for the plan would be done by April, at which
point the 18-month plan would begin.

The city’s only previous coordinated area plan, for the South of Forest Avenue area, dragged on for years and was shelved for a year after completion before it was brought to council, Holman said.

Funding should motivate the city this time around. If the Ventura plan drags on longer than it’s budgeted for, it will be on the city to fund it until it’s done.